By John Nuutinen, CEO of SkedGo

Mobility insecurity is a global issue, with underserved communities unable to regularly move around in a safe and timely manner due to a lack of material, economic or social resources. The good news is there are programmes and organisations looking to address these transportation challenges which could be modelled worldwide.

MOVE PHG in Pittsburgh, USA, recently launched its “Universal Basic Mobility” pilot, providing up to 100 local low-income residents with a free monthly subscription to a package of mobility services. Likewise, nonprofit Feonix – Mobility Rising, also in the US, is ensuring underserved populations can access transport more easily with a range of solutions. Both are supporting communities that would otherwise struggle to move around freely.

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Transportation and economic mobility go hand-in-hand, opening up education and employment opportunities. Many people cannot afford a car or have an older, less reliable vehicle, and access to public or shared transportation may not be possible due to cost or lack of availability. Equally, individuals with physical or psychological challenges may find that mobility systems are not set up for their use and that even attending medical appointments, buying groceries or visiting friends can be a source of stress and frustration.

The role of MaaS

Paratransit in the US has catered for these audiences in the past, particularly people with disabilities. However, real freedom and flexibility require us to broaden the range of transport options. That is where mobility-as-a service (MaaS) comes in, as it brings all public and private modes together in one application. Many people do not realise what options are available to them, and transport providers can struggle to propagate their services. A working MaaS system should improve accessibility to communities, providing personalised trip itineraries and the ability to easily plan, book and pay for transport.

Feonix – Mobility Rising is an interesting nonprofit, as they directly help underserved communities deal with real transport issues on a day-to-day basis. They are currently working with SkedGo on three MaaS solutions: N4 in Northern Nevada, a rural community MaaS solution centred around demand response transit (DRT), MI Ride in Michigan, a hybrid of public transit and shuttle services, and Arrowhead Transit in Minnesota, which is connected to the public transit system. These apps will introduce MaaS to the communities Feonix serves, providing mixed or multimodal transport options which can be extended over time.

The Australian organisation Briometrix is mapping city footpaths including quality, access points, and wheelchair routing. What prevents many wheelchair users from going out and enjoying life is the fear they might get stuck somewhere with no way of getting back. This is a real barrier, which is why a comprehensive solution for disabled commuters is necessary. We are also working on better situational or contextual trip planning where the tech works automatically in the background without the need for human input. This will be particularly helpful to people with disabilities as it takes into account their personal situation and the context of their travel to push trip itineraries to them, taking the hard work out of travel.

A major benefit of MaaS is that it can be used as a tool for social good so that transport is more equitable and accessible. MaaS can support projects that help people access the transport they need to get out of the low-income trap, support general wellbeing and go about their daily life – something many of us take for granted.

A global model

Several challenges need to be taken into account when thinking about a global model for addressing mobility insecurity from a MaaS perspective. A person often has to fulfill certain criteria to be eligible for low income or disability transport, so these workflows need to be integrated into the MaaS app.

In addition, the same passenger may be on crutches one day, in a wheelchair the next day, and have a carer with them on the third day. Their circumstances are always changing. The system has to be able to deal with these changes and still deliver a practical trip itinerary to ensure they can get from A to B.

There are several other considerations too if we are to see models like Pittsburgh and Feonix used worldwide to reduce mobility insecurity:

  • Unified approach

Cities, public transport authorities, or non-profit organisations are best placed to lead universal basic mobility programmes, given their premise is to work for the greater good and not for shareholders. These projects need to be managed in a controlled manner – in the case of MOVE PGH the city has oversight and is also responsible for agreeing permits.

  • Wider partnerships

Reducing mobility insecurity relies on public-private partnerships between a range of providers across transport, technology, data, and payment, to name a few. Feonix – Mobility Rising works with businesses and other non-profits such as residential homes, churches or security companies to make small, underutilised fleets available in the MaaS ecosystem.

Everyone wins – particularly the end-user who may be reliant on such services.

  • Government funding and support

Making universal basic mobility available to disadvantaged and disabled communities will require government funding. Public transport systems globally have been subsidised from the very beginning. This is just a natural extension to deliver a quality service; it is not unusual and thankfully the community conscience is catching up to the realities of life.

  • Free or low-cost mobility packages

Providing low income and disabled residents with a free or low-cost monthly subscription to a package of mobility services is essential to reduce mobility insecurity. This allows people to make those necessary journeys to help support their financial, health and social wellbeing. Free or scaled fees could be used depending on an individual’s changing circumstances.

  • Low-tech mobility access

Many volunteer organisations that provide transport options still work on paper so combining high-tech and low-tech is key. This means people can still contact call centres to pre-book, amend or cancel trips. It delivers the infrastructure to enable MaaS but lowers the technical point of entry for people who are not used to this sort of environment. You have to meet people where they’re at and bring them along for the journey.

  • Transport hubs

In addition to having all modes combined within the MaaS system, it is also important to have a reasonable number of well-situated transport hubs. These physical hubs act as connectors to different types of transport. Train stations are a traditional example, where you have taxis and buses too. Hubs are vital to ensure easy transfer to other modes, providing charging stations and marketing the range of transport options available.

  • Flexible regulatory environment

Creating the right regulatory conditions for more non-traditional transport options to thrive is critical to reducing mobility insecurity. Consideration needs to be given to legal factors too from insurance to driver checks to make sure the system is set up for success, without too much red tape.

One step at a time

Reducing mobility insecurity is no easy feat but certainly a worthy goal. It requires many interconnected factors to align as we have discussed, including a central coordinating approach that acts in the best interests of those the projects are there to serve. Rural areas, as well as cities, need to be considered too, particularly over the longer term.

We need to learn from the flagship projects featured above, and by sharing these learnings – and with government support – we are much more likely to be able to bring integrated multimodal transportation to underserved populations around the globe with MaaS playing an important role. Together we can help to ease mobility insecurity, driving greater economic mobility and enhancing wellbeing – one step at a time.